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PS2 Review - 'DDR SuperNOVA'

by Andrew Hayward on Oct. 20, 2006 @ 12:50 a.m. PDT

DDR SuperNOVA brings the video game phenomenon to new heights, featuring several new gameplay modes while boasting the largest number of tracks of any Dance Dance Revolution title to date with more than 70 songs across multiple genres and styles of music.

Genre: Rhythm
Publisher: Konami of America
Developer: Konami Digital Entertainment
Release Date: September 26, 2006

"I'm two quarters and a heart down." - Fall Out Boy

The next line of the song "Dance, Dance" seems to indicate interaction with a payphone, but what if he was talking an arcade machine? Maybe singer Patrick Stump (or lyricist Peter Wentz) dropped some coin on a game of Dance Dance Revolution and was schooled by a local teenager. The title of the song could certainly validate my theory.

Regardless of what the song means (if anything), I remember thinking it would be an excellent fit for the game series. An upbeat pop-punk track with big drums and a sweet bass line, "Dance, Dance" was one of the best singles of last year. I never actually expected the song to make an appearance, though. Previous home versions of Dance Dance Revolution released in the States featured half-hearted track lists that left off many of the best songs of the Japanese versions, while completely eschewing American pop artists.

Dance Dance Revolution: SuperNOVA may not represent a significant evolution for the long-running franchise, but to call it the same old song and dance would only be half-true. While the arrow-stomping gameplay is largely the same as it has been since 2001's Dance Dance Revolution MAX (which introduced the freeze arrows), SuperNOVA features the most comprehensive set of tracks assembled for an American home release. Though the series' trademark J-pop and Eurodance tracks are present (and as good as ever), the increased emphasis on songs culled from the American market makes SuperNOVA the best stateside entry to date.

The gameplay in SuperNOVA is the same as it has been in the series for the last five years. If you have ever played a Dance Dance Revolution title, you should have no problem jumping right in. Using a floor-mat controller, gamers must step in time on the corresponding arrows near the top of the screen. The arrows are often timed with the beat (or off-beat) of the track, though some advanced tracks match the arrows with other elements of the composition. As the floor mat is little more than a giant, flat controller, you can opt to use the standard Dual Shock 2, though the "dancing" experience is significantly hampered.

I put "dancing" in quotes because the movements in Dance Dance Revolution rarely mimic anything you would see in a club or a music video. Still, the "dancing" can be pretty intense, and the task of jumping up and down in place should bring beads of sweat to even the most toned gamer. Still, the world of gaming is much different than it was back in 1998, when DDR essentially created the rhythm gaming genre. Guitar Hero has become somewhat of a phenomenon in America, relegating DDR to second-class status. And unlike its portrayal of "dancing," most agree that Guitar Hero does a much better job of recreating a real-life activity.

So what is grandfather Konami to do in the wake of a young challenger? Finally acknowledge the target audience. For the longest time, the American home versions of Dance Dance Revolution suffered significantly compared to their Japanese counterparts. Licensing issues, along with a (likely) limited budget, prohibited the American games from featuring all of the top tracks of the original games, leaving gamers with second-tier experiences (and/or burned copies of the import mixes). Last year's Dance Dance Revolution ULTRAMIX 3 for Xbox made a major step forward (with hit singles from The Black Eyed Peas and Good Charlotte), but was largely skipped-over because of Microsoft's quick abandonment of the console.

Dance Dance Revolution SuperNOVA aims even higher, featuring 20 licensed tracks (from a total of 74), many performed by the original artists. Some of the biggest rock and pop singles of the last two years are present, including Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" and "Do You Want To" by Franz Ferdinand. As noted previously, Fall Out Boy's "Dance, Dance" is present, along with an abbreviated version of the original music video. Retro fans will find a bit to like as well, with tracks from David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, and The Buggles.

A couple of the more familiar tracks were not even hit singles in the United States. Tomoyasu Hotei's "Battle without Honor or Humanity" was prominently featured in the Quentin Tarantino film Kill Bill Vol. 1, while "Jerk it Out" by Caesars was nailed into our minds by an iPod Shuffle commercial in 2005. The selections add an interesting touch to the game, and perpetrate the feeling that Konami made an extra effort to personalize SuperNOVA for a non-Japanese audience.

Like in previous games, several licensed songs performed by alternate artists are included, such as "Come Clean" from NM ft. Suzan Z (originally by Hilary Duff) and "Heaven is a Place on Earth" by Julia (originally from Belinda Carlisle). Fans of the older games need not fear, though – longtime contributors Naoki, Captain Jack, and BeForU make appearances with material on par with their previous respective works. Favorites "Dynamite Rave" and "Can't Stop Falling in Love" even reappear with "Super Euro Version" remixes.

Though the core gameplay remains unchanged, Dance Dance Revolution SuperNOVA does feature a significant new mode that may represent the future of the single-player experience for the series. Stellar Master mode serves up a variety of objectives that must be completed, ranging from finishing two songs on the beginner difficulty to getting a grade of A or better in ten songs on the expert difficulty. Upon completing a number of objectives, you can take a trial to obtain a VIP Card for the area. Collecting VIP Cards allows you to unlock new items to be purchased in the in-game store, from new songs to unique arrow designs.

Stellar Master adds a bit of meat to the otherwise bare bones of the recent Dance Dance Revolution games, giving gamers something more to shoot for than just unlocking songs. The mode will hopefully be expanded and improved in future iterations, perhaps integrating online play for a more varied experience. The standard arcade-style Game mode is present, as is the Workout mode, which estimates burned calories and tracks the amount you play over a series of days, weeks, and months. Advanced mode houses the Endless and Survival modes, as well as the Combo Challenge for "super expert" players (as per the user manual).

What really sealed the deal for me is the strength and stability of SuperNOVA's online mode. I feared that lag would come into play, which would be especially detrimental to a rhythm-based game like Dance Dance Revolution. Thankfully, my time spent playing online was hassle-free and easy to get into. Sadly, it doesn't appear that many have joined the online revolution yet, as I could only find six people online on a Saturday afternoon. After winning thirteen of my first fifteen matches, I was catapulted into the top 200 players worldwide. While I may be skilled, I promise that I am not that good. SuperNOVA is sure to be a big seller this holiday season, so perhaps we'll see more people logging on after Christmas.

Really, my only issue with the online mode was the ability to use either a dance pad or controller at any time. I enjoy playing with both, though I can definitely say that the game is much easier with a controller than with a dance pad. SuperNOVA allows both to be used, and did not seem to recognize which I was using or match me up with another gamer using the same input device. This creates a balance issue, and I'm not sure that the honor system is enough to guarantee gameplay equality. Honestly, it's not a huge problem for me, as I was having a blast playing against others, but I can certainly see how someone might take umbrage to an unequal match-up.

The optional Eye Toy support advertised on the cover of SuperNOVA ends up feeling a bit gimmicky, as the combination of steps and hand movements removes much of the intended rhythm from the experience. Bust it out at a party, but avoid otherwise. Similarly, the new Battle mode attempts to muck up the flow of your steps – and succeeds, unfortunately. By changing the speed of the steps and changing options on the fly, the mode seems more interested in knocking you on your ass than actually providing a logical extension of the core gameplay. I'm sure some will get a kick out of it, but I found it too frantic and ridiculous to warrant multiple plays.

The success of any rhythm game is largely determined by its selection of songs, and Dance Dance Revolution SuperNOVA is the first American release that can compete with its import brethren. Though the goal of the game remains unchanged, the Stellar Master and online play modes strengthen its replay value innumerably. If you have somehow missed out on the dozen previous home releases, this is as good of a time as any to check out the Dance Dance Revolution franchise. If, like me, you played long ago but felt burned out, please reconsider this rhythmic romp. SuperNOVA represents a strong step forward for the franchise – one which will hopefully lead to even bigger things in the next generation.

Score: 8.0/10

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